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UN chief extends Lebanon’s Hariri tribunal for two years

February 25, 2021 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary General has extended the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri for two years and reaffirmed the United Nations’ commitment to support its work in bringing to justice those responsible for major crimes, the United Nations said Thursday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the extension will begin on March 1 and will last until the Special Tribunal for Lebanon completes its cases or exhausts available funds.

The Valentine’s Day 2005 truck bombing on Beirut’s seafront that killed former prime minister Hariri and 21 others and injured 226 sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Damascus denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years there.

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The U.N. investigation into Hariri’s assassination was broadened to include 14 other Lebanese killings.

The Netherlands-based Special Tribunal sentenced Salim Ayyash, a member of the Hezbollah militant group, in absentia to life imprisonment in December for his involvement in Hariri’s assassination. Ayyash has never been arrested. Three other Hezbollah members tried with him were acquitted.

Guterres said in a letter to the council circulated on Feb. 19 that the president of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge Ivana Hrdličková, informed him in November that its work wouldn’t be finished by the expiration of its mandate Feb. 28 and asked or a two-year extension “to significantly advance its work towards completion.”

Lebanon, which is mandated to pay 49 percent of the tribunal’s costs, faces a dire financial situation which has left the tribunal with a serious funding shortfall. Its economic and financial crisis, which began in late 2019, is the country’s worst in modern history, with the economy contracting 19% in 2020.

The remaining 51 percent of the tribunal’s funding comes from voluntary contributions.

Guterres told the Security Council earlier this month that an urgent appeal to all 193 U.N. member states and the international community in December failed to generate any new funding for the tribunal.

After consulting Lebanon’s government and Security Council members, Guterres said he intends to request approximately $25 million from the General Assembly, called a “subvention,” to cover the anticipated shortfall in funding from the Lebanese government and donors in 2021. This would be temporary, while the tribunal seeks additional funds, he said.